What is attack surface management (ASM)?

Attack Surface Management A Brief Guide

Attack surface management (ASM) is monitoring, analyzing, and remedying all entry points that could be used to stage a cyberattack on an organization's cloud assets. This cybersecurity discipline fully takes on the hacker's perspective, shifting the vision outwards and looking at how a network could be breached. Identification, classification, prioritization, and monitoring are performed to ensure visibility and reduce risks.

Identifying targets and assessing risks helps to form cybersecurity strategies and prioritize updates. It has long-lasting benefits when making an organization more resistant to threats. As unknown assets and unauthorized access to them are one of the most used attack vectors, securing these gaps helps to achieve security’s digital transformation. ASM is essential in supervising complex IT infrastructure and staying ahead of attackers to reduce cyber risks threatening an organization's cloud assets and processing sensitive data.

What are the core functions of attack surface management?

Internal and external digital assets pose a great deal of vulnerabilities, and it needs a strategic approach to be properly handled. Therefore, attack surface management implementation consists of:

  1. Identification — one of the most critical attack surface management steps is identifying all the items in your internal network. Since each might have specific vulnerabilities, this is needed for thorough asset discovery. Its exact scope will adjust the action plan for the next steps.

  2. Classification — not all vulnerabilities can hurt an organization to the same degree. Some vulnerabilities are more severe and require immediate action. Classification attempts to flag the critical areas that could cause the most damage to an organization.

  3. Prioritization — as you've probably guessed from the name, this step arranges the to-do list of security flaws that need addressing first. This stage is instrumental when strategizing security setup deployment steps to mitigate risks.

  4. Monitoring — attack surface management is a perpetual process requiring constant refreshes to uncover new vulnerabilities quickly. Network administrators are racing against the clock to make these exploits ineffective when they find a gap.

Steps to implement attack surface management

Even a small enterprise can have an immense attack surface. Hackers can leverage every internet-facing asset to gain entry into the internal network. Many attack surface management vendors promise that theirs is a one-click solution, but its implementation is a multi-step process.

1. Through analysis of network vulnerabilities

The totality of all connected organization's digital assets forms the attack surface. To be secure against cyberattacks means to be secure against every asset's vulnerability. Having digital assets mapped out helps evaluate which vulnerabilities pose the most significant risks. Cataloging all internet-connected assets helps make the first asset management strategy step.

2. Research attack surface management providers

Different vendors emphasize different expertise, which may or may not align with your identified security gaps. Therefore, properly evaluate what is on offer and look past flashy marketing slogans. Key features that will matter eventually are automated discovery, continuous monitoring, actionable alerts, and integration mechanisms.

3. Put policies after attack surface management is introduced 

Attack surface management implementation shouldn't end with its deployment. After everything is set up and running, employees should be familiarized with new systems that have been incorporated into their workflows. HR and business managers should be incentivized to use the opportunity to expand the training with cybersecurity awareness to make the most use of employees' attention.

How do you assess vulnerabilities?

Vulnerability assessment creates an overview of security risks within a network founding a basis for their resolution. Identifying various security risks from each device or used piece of software allows network administrators to evaluate the threat landscape and what risks it entails.

The process itself consists of four parts:

  1. Planning an assessment. This will involve cataloging used assets as well as investigating data storage locations.

  2. Setting it up. Various scanners must use the network to identify outdated software and vulnerable hardware.

  3. Resolving vulnerabilities. After the vulnerabilities are resolved, they must be patched up (if possible). Some legacy hardware may also need to be sandboxed into separate sub-networks to contain the damage in case of a cybersecurity accident.

  4. Performing ongoing maintenance. Once the vulnerabilities have been addressed, it's necessary to repeat the process periodically, as vulnerabilities are discovered constantly.

Finding vulnerabilities and patching them up before an attacker does it helps to maintain the organization's security. Ongoing cybersecurity vulnerability assessment can dramatically decrease risks.

How can your organization mitigate surface attack risks?

A common practice when dealing with attack surface risks involves its reduction. These four steps could give you a framework for how to begin reducing your organization's attack surface.

  1. Implement a Zero-Trust policy. You should deny access to your network to everyone without authorization. Zero-Trust puts a company's security first instead of convenience, which can substantially affect your company's security status.

  2. Create safe gateways. Remote work policies are a new post-covid workplace necessity. Remote access should be allowed only via secure channels from a security standpoint.

  3. Reinforce authentication. Your bleeding-edge cybersecurity tech is ineffective if the only thing stopping an attacker is a "123456" password. Authentication should be strict and leave little room for credentials exposure in an unrelated data breach.

  4. Protect your backups. Unprotected backups can be how a hacker could obtain a company's data without directly staging an attack. An alarming number of data breaches were caused by leaving data backups unprotected.

It's also good to look into several integrated solutions incorporating multiple cybersecurity systems to facilitate attack surface management.

Why is attack surface management important?

Most businesses face the challenge of supervising complex IT infrastructure with many endpoints that could serve as attack vectors. Attack surface management attempts to stay one step ahead of the attackers before the organization faces a direct threat.

Keeping track of all used IT assets can be challenging in a business environment, as its scope and dynamics could overwhelm even moderate cybersecurity departments. If a business uses a hybrid infrastructure of legacy hardware and remote work solutions, the challenge of attack surface doubles as endpoints are outside the company's network.

Some sources claim that unpatched security vulnerabilities are the leading cause of data breaches. By using attack surface management, it's possible to provide a timely resolution to reduce cyber risks threatening an organization. However, it's only one of the potential routes a business could take to secure its resources better.

How can NordLayer help?

NordLayer provides a Security Service Edge, or SSE-focused network management solution, to address dynamic organizations' needs. It offers a complete overview of the company's network allowing its segmentation into separate teams and gateways, minimizing an attack surface.

With NordLayer, you can deny connections from jailbroken devices to protect your network from potential risks. This can be incredibly beneficial for businesses bringing their device policies, which usually have a large attack surface. It's a great starting point to control your internal network better and minimize business exposure to online threats.

Contact our team and discover more about our approach that could improve your organization's cybersecurity status.

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